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TRAMES. A Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences
ISSN 1736-7514 (Electronic)
ISSN 1406-0922 (Print)
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Full article in PDF format | DOI: 10.3176/tr.2016.2.03

Peter Grzybek


The present study deals with the problem of word length in Estonian prose. As is well known from quantitative and synergetic linguistics, word length is no isolated phenomenon; rather, it stands in close interrelations with word frequency, sentence and syllable length, and others, resulting in language as a dynamically balanced system. More­over, the frequency with which words of a given length occur is no haphazard or chaotic phenomenon, but organized regularly, in a law-like manner. In this respect, the necessarily interdisciplinary approach to this issue may not only be helpful for analogical studies in other fields as well; it may also help to bridge the gap between what is usually juxtaposed in terms of ‘soft’ vs. ‘hard’, ‘human’ vs. ‘natural’ sciences, and the like. Since the results to be obtained quite obviously depend upon a number of various factors – e.g., the defini­tion of ‘word’ itself, as well as of its constituting elements, the choice of a paradigmatic vs. syntagmatic approach (i.e. of dictionary vs. text material), the study of lemmas vs. word forms, etc. – relevant theoretical linguistic aspects are initially discussed, before the linguistic material to be investigated is presented: on the whole, five novels from modern Estonian authors (Pärtel Ekman, Jaan Kross, Reet Kudu, Viivi Luik) are analysed, chapter per chapter, summing up to an amount of ca. ¼ million words, or ca. 20,000 sentences. As a result, the (discrete) Zipf-Alekseev distribution turns out to be an excellent model for word length frequencies of Estonian prose texts, what paves the way for future studies in various perspectives: generally speaking, the result allows for a qualitative interpretation in terms of a diversification process; more concretely, a solid basis is provided, not only for further intra-lingual studies of Estonian (including factors such as different discourse types, author-specific styles, periods of language development, etc.), but also for systematic comparative inter-lingual studies (including language specifics, parameter interpretation, etc.).


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